Occupational therapist from Talk Sense Taryn Rutenberg, explains the importance of tummy time and explores some creative ways of encouraging your baby to enjoy tummy time and reach her developmental milestones.

Tummy time is an important time for your baby as it encourages her to push up on her arms and turn her head to explore the sounds of her world and to see Mom and Dad. By doing tummy time she will develop strong head, neck and shoulder muscles, which will allow her to develop other skills such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling and pulling to stand. Tummy time also reduces the chance of your baby developing a flat spot on her head from spending too much time on her back. Stay with your baby the whole time during tummy time and never leave her for a second. Babies should also not be placed on their tummies to sleep, so if your baby falls asleep during tummy time, roll her over onto her back.

At what age should babies do tummy time?
Tummy time should start from the day your baby is born. This will help her to get used to this position and enjoy exploring the world around her on her tummy. When she is awake, place your baby on your stomach two or three times a day for a few minutes. Use your voice and smiling face to encourage her to lift her head up so she sees her favourite person. As baby’s neck and shoulders strengthen, lay further back so that she must work harder against gravity to be able to see you.

Getting your baby to enjoy tummy time
As your baby gets stronger, place her on her favourite blanket on the floor after a nappy change or a nap. Make sure that the area is clean and that there are no pets around that may startle your baby. Position her arms together underneath her chest to prop her up. A rolled-up blanket or towel can also be used to keep her propped in this position and stop her becoming frustrated.

Lie down on the floor next to your baby with your face 20 – 30cm away from her and talk to her to encourage her to look at you. Placing brightly coloured toys that crinkle or jingle when touched will encourage your baby to look around and explore the world around her. These toys can be moved around slowly from side to side to develop eye tracking. Babies love looking at faces, so place a mirror in front of her during tummy time so she can see herself. A textured mat or book can also be used to encourage her to push up on her arms or hands.

How long should babies be in tummy time?
As your baby gets used to tummy time, place her on her stomach more frequently or for longer periods of time. For a three- to four-month-old baby aim for at least 20 minutes of tummy time a day. If your baby hasn’t been doing tummy time since birth and doesn’t seem to like it, start with a few minutes each day. Build up to sessions of one to ten minutes each, scattered throughout the day. From six months babies like to reach for objects, so place her on her tummy in front of a play gym with suspended objects for her to swipe at.

Tummy time alternatives
Another position to try to encourage tummy time is lying your baby over your lap and rocking and patting her in this position. Open your legs a little to offer less support over her stomach area. Ask a sibling or relative to sit on the floor next to you and pull faces to offer a great distraction in this position.

Carrying your baby on her tummy is also a great way of encouraging tummy time as she lifts her head to explore the world around her. Here’s how: Turn your baby face-down. Place one arm under your baby’s chin, using the palm of your hand to support her chest. With your other arm between her legs, place your hand on her stomach for extra support.

For older babies who have better head control (four months and older), a fun position to try is being an aeroplane on your legs. Lie on your back and bend your legs. Put your baby’s tummy against your shins with her head at your knees, then lift your feet off the floor while firmly holding onto your baby. Lifting her slowly up and down in this position will also help to develop her movement system, while strengthening her back and neck muscles.

Subtle tummy time for resistant babies
Don’t worry if your baby resists tummy time – exercise is hard for all of us when we first try it! Attempt the different positions and see which one works best for you and your baby. Try and include it into your daily routine, such as rolling her onto her tummy for a few minutes after every nappy change. Don’t give up, even if she niggles, use a soothing voice and lots of distractions to encourage her to spend longer periods of time in this position. She will learn to like this position as she gets stronger. If she becomes too upset, pick her up and try again later after a nap. Babies who have reflux may resist tummy time as it is too uncomfortable. A good time to do tummy time with a reflux baby is 30 or 45 minutes after a feed.

Persist – it’s important
Children need to have strong neck and back muscles to help them sit up straight at school. Encouraging your baby to develop a habit of tummy time will allow her to build strong muscles so that later she can concentrate and write at school.

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